Prescriptive selling in B2B has received a lot of attention recently, and for good reason. Over the last decade, vast quantities of digital information have empowered B2B buyers to comprehensively research new and complex solutions. Buyers control their journey more than ever, gathering information from a variety of channels and only contacting vendors well into the later stages of the sales funnel. Marketers continuously churn out content, working to educate and influence their presumably voracious audience. But in truth, this tide of unending information — combined with a buying process that likely includes multiple stakeholders with divergent interests — is paradoxically overwhelming buyers attempting to make purchasing decisions for their organizations.
In The New Sales Imperative (2017), the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) presents prescriptive selling as the antidote for B2B buyer fatigue. Rather than responding to buyers with more information that may perplex or stall their efforts, prescriptive sellers give clear, actionable recommendations and explanations. Taking a prescriptive sales approach puts buyers first and demystifies the unfamiliar territory they often navigate en route to deciding on a new business solution. It enables the buyer to make a decision confidently, and can be highly influential in the 1:1 context of sales where the customer is typically on the threshold of making a purchasing decision.
But what does ‘being prescriptive’ mean for marketing, where the focus might be top-of-the-funnel awareness-building, and trust has not yet been built between the brand and buyer? How can marketing teams demystify B2B buying in the early stages of purchasing? Let’s explore what being prescriptive entails for marketers and what can be done to make B2B buying easy.
Make B2B Buying Easy Through a Prescriptive Approach to Marketing
B2B marketers often communicate their messaging to tens of thousands of people at a time, which makes the idea of being prescriptive seem either impossible or extremely presumptuous. In truth, marketers have a subtle yet critical role to play in shifting from a traditional sales-enablement model to one focused on prescriptive buyer-enablement. Besides equipping sales reps with a repertoire of knowledge, content assets and tools to draw upon when courting prospects, marketers can support a prescriptive approach by giving prospects curated, targeted resources that enable them to choose their own pathway to a solution. To put it another way, we can empower the buyer by repurposing the same tactics we have been using to support sales.
Taking a prescriptive approach to B2B marketing entails having a deeper understanding of the buyer journey and the types of content required to simplify the task of purchasing. With this approach, the buyer has control over which content to consume, skim, or skip as they proceed in their decision-making. Less may be more: many prospects lack the time it takes to read through long white papers or sit through a 45 minute webinar. This doesn’t mean that the content you have already created has lost value — for example, you can repurpose sections from a white paper to create shorter articles. Save longer, “beefier” pieces of content for buyers further along in their journey who are willing to invest time in learning about your solution.
Re-imagining the Buyer Journey Through a Prescriptive Lens
A solid prescriptive marketing approach involves researching and mapping authentic buyer journeys with the aim of guiding prospects through their unique obstacles and hurdles. A deep understanding of the buyer journey gives marketers visibility into what pathways prospects enter, follow, and loop through before having any real engagement with your business — or your competitors. “Much of the buyer journey happens prior to vendor engagement”, states MASS Engines consultant Anthony Iannuzzi. “It’s alarming to consider situations where a customer approaches your company and you didn’t help them get there. They chose you without your influence. What if someone else becomes the de facto choice?”
While companies should have a comprehensive account of their own buyer’s journeys, there are common barriers that most buyers encounter as they make a purchase. The CEB elucidates some of the common impediments that slow down the purchasing process at early, mid, and late stages. In our view, the early and mid stages are most significant to marketers considering a prescriptive approach. The chart below summarizes the CEB stages and impediments, and aligns them with roles we feel marketing should play in helping buyers work through those obstacles.
Transfer the ‘Light Bulb’ Moment to your Buyers
As B2B buying continues to evolve, marketers must follow suit. With prospects driving their own purchasing journeys, marketers can preemptively address the problem of buyer fatigue by taking a prescriptive and buyer-centric approach. This means re-purposing and simplifying content in a way that reflects the buyer’s place in their journey, and understanding and addressing the barriers they face throughout their purchasing process. In our experience, successful companies focus on educating prospects, effectively transferring the ‘light bulb’ moment to the client rather than explicitly promoting their product. Providing real value to your customers’ experiences always triumphs and if you can enable your buyers to see what the best solutions are, your brand will be top of mind when it is time to buy!